The digital game plan: Is anyone doing it right?


Interesting times in which we live! In the quest for the silver bullet or pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we have an industry struggling for a more solid foothold. We are witnessing several very different scenarios and tactics being played out before our eyes.

On one hand, we have Berkshire Hathaway led by the “Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffet, taking advantage of depressed newspaper prices and doubling down by buying them up by the dozens, much like we witnessed pre-2008.

On the other hand, we have Advance Publications moving in rapid fashion to three-day publication in many of its larger metro markets.

Not to be outdone, we have the digital-first (excuse me, the digital-only) crowd, throwing all their eggs into the digital basket in hopes of financial nirvana. Just a side note: It is easy to show a greater digital growth when one is gutting one’s print circulation, in essence driving down print revenue prematurely.

As is often the case, we have the usual industry suspects lamenting the pros and cons of each of these approaches, as if one of them is right and the others are wrong. Time will declare the ultimate winner in this monumental struggle. Until that time, in a world of major fragmentation, user-driven models, and niche dominance, I would submit that maybe bits and pieces of all three approaches makes for the most effective and appropriate battle strategy.

Using a sports analogy: In order to claim a championship, a team must have a viable and effective offense, usually coupled with a strong defense. Then we add to the successful mix strong coaching and management, topping it off with a supportive front office. In other words, it takes a well-balanced machine to claim that prize.

Why this analogy? Very simple. As in the past, it will take the same approach and depth to win our game. History shows there has never been one ingredient that has saved our industry. This is still true today. We must still maintain the traditional blocking and tackling that holds up the print circulation as long as we can. The bottom line is that print still pays the bills. It may pay fewer than before, but without it, we are toast.

That said, we can’t rely solely on print over the long haul either. It is the same balance that wins championships in sports that will win the championship of survival in our industry.

Those that rush to the digital-first (or only) corner might be on a fool’s errand. On the other hand, those excluding a healthy dose of digital are playing Russian roulette with the devil. Those that choose to ignore print and cut back too deeply will simply go broke.

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